Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Plant of the month - October

Cosmos "Purity"

This is perhaps the most lovely of all the annuals, a real ballerina of a flower. The whitest of white petals - purity really does describe it perfectly - stretch with yearning up to the sun on wiry stems dancing above the featheriest of foliage. For all its delicacy, this is a tough plant that thrives on pretty much any soil: if you have poorer soil, the stems are shorter and it doesn't need staking. This one is in my cutting garden, for these make the most spectacular and beautiful flowers for a vase and go with just about anything. It's such a generous plant, too: the more you cut the flowers, the more the plant produces. I have Cosmos most of the year, as I sow in March for flowers in the usual month of June-July, and do a second sowing in July for flowers still going strong at this time of year. They don't come more perfect than this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Saying goodbye

One of the occupational hazards of being a professional gardener is that you end up having to say goodbye to people you've become very fond of, and to gardens you've nurtured and got to know well.

That's happening to me at the moment - my lovely woodland garden (the one with all the rhododendrons - see here and here... and here.... I've been there a long time!) is going to go to another owner. The current owner says he's moving before Christmas, so I have a month or two yet I think, but it's a funny feeling - rather than making plans on how to bring the garden forward year on year, I'm now just keeping it tidy and ticking over until the next person arrives. Worse - I've become really fond of the current owner, who's a lovely man and very kind and gentle. He's elderly, so needs somewhere smaller and more manageable, but I shall miss him.

It's taken me by surprise how much the people who own gardens reflect on the qualities of the gardens themselves. I've looked after just one garden for someone I didn't get on with - and I didn't like the garden either. This one was a little sterile and overgrown when I first arrived, but over the year I've been getting it gradually into shape so it has more movement and life in it now. In just the same way, I've taken time to get to know the owner, but gradually he's become a friend as well as a client.

Gardening really is about people as much as it is about plants...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Season of mists...

There's a definite autumn tinge to the air now. It's been misty the last couple of days and the leaves are just turning that russety shade of brown that means any minute now we'll be out with the leaf rakes and collecting what seems like tons of the things.

Which is why I've been sorting out the leafmould bins for one of my clients. She has a fabulous big woodland garden, full of lovely mature natives like beech, oak and whitebeams (one of the loveliest trees if you have a chalky soil - it has silver undersides to its leaves). Unfortunately, though she has two massive leafmould bays, they were full of roots and half falling down, so they took a lot of work to get functioning again!

I'm there now though, after a couple of sessions of digging out a mixture of nettle and tree roots and sorting out the rotted stuff - some many years old - from the new leaves which had been dumped on top. Now I have two bays, about 10ft x 10ft (I told you it was a big garden) made of posts driven into the ground with green wire chainlink fencing round it. You need plenty of air in a leafmould bin to make good mould, so things like compost bins, with more solid sides, don't work: chainlink fences are ideal and last for years, though you have to have strong uprights which are well driven into the ground as the weight of the leaves can be enormous.

Now I have lots of lovely old leafmould to spread as a mulch on her borders. It makes a great autumn mulch as it's low in nutrients so won't spur plants on to put out unseasonally tender growth, and it still adds plenty of organic matter to the soil (desperately needed on her thin chalk). One of the many good reasons to have a garden in the woods!

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